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Panasonic TH-PF11UK review: Panasonic TH-PF11UK

Panasonic TH-PF11UK

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David Katzmaier
David_Katzmaier.jpg

David Katzmaier

Editorial Director -- TVs and streaming

David has reviewed TVs, streaming services, streaming devices and home entertainment gear at CNET since 2002. He is an ISF certified, NIST trained calibrator and developed CNET's TV test procedure himself. Previously David wrote reviews and features for Sound & Vision magazine and eTown.com. He is known to two people on Twitter as "The Cormac McCarthy of consumer electronics."

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10 min read

Editors' note: The rating on this review has been lowered because of changes in the competitive marketplace.

7.3

Panasonic TH-PF11UK

The Good

Reproduces deep black levels with realistic shadow detail; accurate grayscale after calibration; extensive picture controls including custom color temperature settings; extremely compact, minimalist design with robust build quality; versatile picture-in-picture; optional, swappable inputs.

The Bad

Relatively expensive; inaccurate primary color of green; no stand, speakers, or tuner included; sparse connectivity with just two HDMI, one PC input and no S-Video or composite inputs.

The Bottom Line

Although expensive and light on features compared with consumer sets, Panasonic's TH-50PF11UK 50-inch professional plasma monitor delivers pro-level picture quality.

We've always been impressed by the performance of Panasonic plasmas, and it started with the company's professional models, such as the TH-50PHD8UK we reviewed three years ago. In terms of external design, Panasonic has changed exactly nothing between that model and the TH-50PH11UK reviewed here, sticking with the same ultra minimalist gunmetal gray look that makes these monitors blend so unobtrusively into TV show sets and other professional environments. Despite being designed for professionals, this display is also a perfectly good performer in the home. The downside is that you'll have to buy a stand (or wall mount) and speakers (or, more likely, use your own sound system), after which the TH-50PF11UK ends up costing a good deal more than comparable "consumer" models, such as the company's own TH-50PZ85U. In terms of picture quality, the pro monitor acquits itself very well, although not much better than the 85U and without the color accuracy of the company's best plasma, the TH-50PZ800U, which also costs less. But if you want the extra control and capabilities, not to mention that no-nonsense design and pro-level build quality, it may be worth it to go professional.

Design
If you're looking for a serious, no-frills flat-panel monitor, look no further. The low-profile gray frame around the screen is thinner than that of any plasma TV we've tested, making this 50-inch model the most compact of its size available today. A black border surrounds the picture area itself. Nothing adorns the front aside from a Panasonic logo along the bottom edge of the screen. The panel measures 47.7 inches wide by 28.5 inches tall by 3.8 inches thick and weighs a hefty 79.4 pounds. It's built like a tank.

The TH-50PH11UK does not come with a stand or speakers. You'll have to buy those separately if you want them. The company's pedestal stand (model TY-ST08-K/S) costs about $150 online, while the stereo speaker kit (model TY-SP50P8W) costs about $280. A range of other accessories, from wall-mount brackets to touch-panel modules, is available on Panasonic's Web site.

While the remote control has a numeric keypad, we didn't get much use out of if it. The clicker features direct access to each input, a rarity on consumer remotes but a real convenience in our book, as well as a dedicated key for each menu section--picture, sound, setup, and position/size. There's no backlighting, and some cryptic keys will confuse many users, but it's better than you might expect in a professional remote.

In relation to the rest of the screen, the menu is just tiny by consumer standards, and riddled with more cryptic jargon and unusual options like "multi-display setup" (in case you want to install a 25-plasma video wall) and "initial input" (which lets you set the default input when the unit is powered on). Everything necessary is there, but you'll have to really dig to find most of it, and comprehending the many options, while worthwhile for power users, will be beyond most consumers' desires.

Features
As a professional monitor, the TH-50PF11UK, by design, lacks a built-in tuner of any kind, so you'll have to connect an external tuner such as a cable or satellite receiver to watch TV. There's no provision to connect an antenna for over-the-air reception of TV signals, digital or otherwise. As we mentioned, the monitor is also missing speakers and a stand, so you'll need to employ the optional speakers or a third-party audio system and provide some way to prop the panel up.

Aside from those differences and the monitor's quirky connectivity (see below), its feature set is quite robust compared with the consumer world. First on the specification sheet is 1080p resolution, the highest available today, although in our testing it's really difficult to see the difference between 1080p and 720p plasmas at the 50-inch screen size.

Panasonic TH=50PF11UK
The main picture menu includes a Monitor picture preset that prevents adjustment of the contrast, or "Picture," control.

The TH-50PF11UK's numerous picture adjustments include four adjustable picture presets that are each independent per input. One of the presets, titled "Monitor," doesn't allow changes to the contrast ("Picture") control and we found it too dim for normal use.

Panasonic TH=50PF11UK
Full control over white balance is a nice plus.

Advanced picture controls abound, including what remains Panasonic's only implementation of a fully-adjustable white balance menu--the company's nonprofessional plasmas lack those adjustments except for the step-up PZ850U series, which itself lacks controls for green. Other advanced controls include four gamma presets as well as three controls best left deactivated or zeroed-out: automatic gain control, black-level expansion, and input level. Panasonic uses the word "Normalize" to denote its picture reset function, so be wary if you have precious picture settings. Controls for noise reduction and 3:2 pull-down are hidden in the Signal section of the Setup menu.

Panasonic TH=50PF11UK
The Advanced menu offers some uncommon picture controls.

Power users will appreciate a range of other advanced options. The Position/Size menu opens up the capability to move the entire image around on the screen and resize it as you can on a computer monitor--impossible with most consumer displays. You can zoom into 25 zones on the screen. There's a well-endowed picture-in-picture system that allows numerous input combinations, subpicture sizes, and orientations, and even the capability to overlap one input with another into a composite image.

You can choose from five among aspect ratio choices with high-definition sources, and there's a separate option, called "1:1 pixel mode" that maps 1080i and 1080p sources directly to the screen's native resolution, with no overscan. We recommend engaging this option. Standard-definition sources allow seven choices.

The TH-50PF11UK also includes numerous options to prevent and remedy burn-in, or image retention. "Wobbling" moved the image slowly over time, while "peak limit" suppressed peak brightness. If image retention occurs, you can engage a scrolling bar, a full-white screen, or a reverse color image and set a timer to end it automatically. There are even four different levels of brightness you can apply to the bars to either side of 4:3 images.

Like most plasmas, the TH-50PF11UK uses a lot of power, especially compared with similar-size LCDs (see the Juice box). It offers a powe- saver mode that suppresses peak light output to cut down on power consumption, somewhat. Also, there's a standby power save mode, although we couldn't measure any difference between leaving that mode turned on or off.

Panasonic TH=50PF11UK
The professional plasma's input section looks nothing like that of consumer displays.

Connectivity has always been sparse on Panasonic's industrial panels. The TH050PF11UK improves a bit in this regard by including two HDMI inputs, but most current consumer plasmas have three. It also comes with a component-video input that uses BNC-style connectors--you'll probably need to buy BNC-to-RCA adapters to use it. There's a standard-issue VGA-style PC input (1,920x1,080-pixel maximum resolution), but the monitor lacks any S-Video or composite-video inputs, and there are no side-panel inputs.

Panasonic TH=50PF11UK
The TH-50PF11UK includes an input board with two HDMI inputs.

As with other Panasonic professional plasmas, most of the inputs are housed on removable boards that slide up into the back of the panel. You can replace any of the included boards--a long list of optional boards can be found on Panasonic's Web site.

Performance
Overall picture quality on the TH-50PF11UK was very good, albeit not the match of the best plasmas we've tested. The capability to produce deep black levels was a major strength, and while we would have appreciated a more-accurate primary color palette, that's by no means a deal-breaker.

Initial calibration of the professional Panasonic was a bit more in-depth than on the company's consumer models since more picture controls were available. As usual, those controls let us improve the grayscale beyond the presets, the best being the monitor's Warm color temperature setting, as shown in the Geek box. Grayscale tracking wasn't perfect, however, and in particular near-dark areas of the image dipped slightly into red. We would have liked some way to improve primary colors as well, but it wasn't available. We did appreciate having the Gamma setting available, and trying them all revealed that, as expected, the "2.2" setting came closest to the ideal of 2.2. We measured a gamma of 2.049 after calibration, which could be better, but it isn't terrible. For our complete picture settings, check out bottom of this blog post.

To perform our main image-quality tests we compared the Panasonic directly with a few other 50-inch 1080p plasmas, namely the Vizio VP505XVT, the Samsung PN50A650, and our reference Pioneer PRO-111FD. We also included the 52-inch Samsung LN52A650 LCD. We checked out the Apocalypto Blu-ray played via the Sony PlayStation 3.

Black level: Like most Panasonic plasmas we've tested recently, the TH-50F11UK exhibited superb black level performance. In Chapter 8's overhead shot of the hole where Seven and her child are trapped, for example, the black shadows in the recesses of the rocks appeared darker than the other displays aside from the Vizio--which as just as dark--and of course the reference Pioneer. Details in the shadows, such as the plants nestled between the rocks, also appeared quite natural and realistic--a bit darker and less natural than the Vizio and a bit better than the Samsungs due to their lighter black levels.

Previous Panasonic plasmas "floated" black, meaning they didn't maintain a constant level of black regardless of the brightness of other areas of the picture. According to our tests and observations, the TH-50PF11UK didn't have this problem, and maintained a consistent black level after calibration.

Color accuracy: The pro Panasonic served up a mixed bag in the color accuracy department. On the positive side, its color temperature and color decoding were quite good after calibration. We appreciated the neutral-looking grays and browns of the cliff face at the beginning of Chapter 8, for example, and the Aztecs' coppery skin tones, which looked relatively accurate compared with our reference Pioneer. Color in shadows, despite a mild red dip in near-black areas, was better than any of the other nonreference displays. We did notice that the Panasonic looked a bit less saturated than the reference display, despite its solid color decoding, an issue we chalk up to its somewhat lighter black levels. Skin tones also had a slightly paler, greener cast than we'd like to see, perhaps caused by a combination of the Panasonic's somewhat greener grayscale in midtones and the inaccurate primary color of green.

Green was skewed a bit toward blue, an issue we saw in the lush jungle foliage especially under shadow. The leaves looked a bit bluish compared with the reference and also slightly too intense. The difference certainly didn't ruin our appreciation for these scenes, however, and would be difficult to spot outside of a side-by-side comparison.

Video processing: In our resolution tests, the Panasonic pro model fared very well, resolving every detail of 1080i and 1080p sources, delivering between 800 and 900 lines of motion resolution and passing both the video- and film-based deinterlacing tests. This is the first Panasonic display we've tested that can pass the film-based deinterlacing test. We also appreciated that, unlike the Vizio, the Panasonic didn't show any false contouring, even in difficult areas such as the edges of the shadows around the campfire in Chapter 4.

(Update 1/15/2009) Due to popular demand, we also tested the 11K with 1080p/24 content. The monitor can be set to either 50Hz or 100Hz refresh rate, and at 50Hz, regardless of the content type, we noticed obvious flicker in the image, especially in bright areas. At 100Hz there was no flicker, and the Panasonic behaved similarly to a display with a refresh rate of some multiple of 24, such as the Pioneer PRO-111FD (72Hz in Advanced mode) or the Sony KDL-55XBR8 (120Hz). We watched the pan over the Intrepid from I Am Legend and the three sets' handling of the 1080p/24 signal looked nearly identical, without the hitching motion characteristic of standard 60Hz sets that must engage 2:3 pulldown with 24-frame content. The Panasonic might have been just a bit less smooth than the other two, but the difference was slight even seen side-by-side. The 11UK's adroitness with 24p sets it apart from the company's consumer plasmas, which either engage 2:3 pull-down for that hitching motion (in standard 60Hz mode) or introduce flicker (48Hz mode).

Bright lighting: The Panasonic didn't perform as well as any of the other displays under bright lighting, with the exception of the Vizio, which basically looked the same. The monitor reflected less light than the glossy-screened Samsungs, but didn't preserve black levels nearly as well, presenting a much more washed-out picture under the lights. The Pioneer did better than the Panasonic in both of these areas.

Standard-definition: The TH-50PF11UK is an average standard-definition performer. It had no trouble resolving every line of the DVD format, and details in the grass and stone bridge looked relatively sharp. It did have trouble smoothing out jaggies from moving diagonal lines and a waving American flag, however, making these areas appear less natural than any of the other displays. The Panasonic's noise reduction circuit has three strengths and one called Advanced. The three manual settings cleaned up moving motes in skies and sunsets quite well, but Advanced didn't seem nearly as effective. When we engaged the 3:2 pull-down setting, which is turned off by default, the Panasonic went into film mode without a hitch.

PC: Via the analog PC input, the Panasonic performed as well as we'd expect from any 1080p TV, delivering every line of a 1,920x1,080-pixel signal with no overscan (once we selected 1:1 pixel mode from the Pos/Size menu). There was some edge enhancement at default settings, but turning down Sharpness (to -12, if you're curious) delivered crisp text and minimal EE. Performance via the HDMI input was basically perfect. We did detect some flicker on the DisplayMate menu screen itself, but we couldn't replicate it in other areas so it's probably not a big deal.

TEST RESULT SCORE
Before color temp (20/80) 6039/6545 Good
After color temp 6491/6529 Good
Before grayscale variation +/- 177 Good
After grayscale variation +/- 107 Average
Color of red (x/y) 0.665/0.325 Poor
Color of green 0.258/0.664 Poor
Color of blue 0.15/0.06 Good
Overscan 0.0% Good
Defeatable edge enhancement Yes Good
480i 2:3 pull-down, 24 fps Pass Good
1080i video resolution Pass Good
1080i film resolution Pass Good

Panasonic TH-50PF11UK Picture settings
Default Calibrated Power Save
Picture on (watts) 449.62 336.35 407.93
Picture on (watts/sq. inch) 0.42 0.31 0.38
Standby (watts) 0 0 0
Cost per year $139.17 $104.11 $126.26
Score (considering size) Poor
Score (overall) Poor
*Cost per year based on 2007 average U.S. residential electricity cost of 10.6 cents per kw/hr at 8 hours on/16 hours off per day.

How we test TVs.

7.3

Panasonic TH-PF11UK

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 7Performance 7
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